The Hainan Incident (Paperback)
by DM Coffman
“The Hainan Incident is a thrilling ride through modern terrorism and Chinese culture. Nonstop action makes it impossible to put this book down until you've turned the last page.” —Traci Hunter Abramson, bestselling author of Smoke Screen
Before beginning his first undercover assignment, American attorney Yi Jichun travels to Hainan Island on the South China Sea for some much-needed respite — but finds trouble instead. Already uneasy about his charge to expose corruption in China’s court system, Yi stumbles upon a hidden computer network in an ancient island village and finds himself drawn into an investigation that tears him between his religious principles and the lie he must live.
Aided by Sarah, an esteemed fellow judge, and Meijuan, a village leader exiled by her powerful and corrupt son, Yi uncovers the Hainan Net — an international organization that targets global shipping channels in its quest for world power. But Yi loses ground when Sarah discovers his true identity as a foreign spy — and as the American military organizes a stealth assault in full cooperation with China’s government, Yi must reconcile the laws governing the land with the laws governing his honor.
- Size: 6" x 9"
- Pages: 288
- Published: July 2011
- Book on CD: Unabridged, 7CDs
About the Author
DM Coffman lived in the People’s Republic of China from 2000–2004. She and her husband taught with the Brigham Young University China Teachers Program and the US-sponsored WTO China Judicial Training Program. She is the author of A Peking University Coursebook on English Exposition Writing, published by Peking University Press, and has served as an editor and foreign consultant for English educational texts. Prior to China, the Coffmans lived in Northern Virginia and worked in the legal profession in Washington DC. She has a M.Ed. from Brigham Young University and a BBA from National University. DM is the winner of awards for short writings, and The Hainan Incident is her first novel.
Yalong Bay Resort, Hainan Island, South China Sea
January 26–February 1, 2001
Yi slipped the electronic key card into the door of his luxury hotel
suite and stepped inside. As usual, he left his flip-flops by the
door. The marble floor felt cold under his bare feet. Setting his bag
of swim gear down in the foyer, he moved toward the bedroom but
then immediately stopped. The back of his neck tingled as a wave of
adrenaline rushed into his system.
Someone had ransacked the bedroom.
His senses heightened. He listened for any sound indicating that
the intruder might still be there. Nothing. His eyes darted across the
plush sofas to the expanse of windows and tied-back draperies. The
windows looked secure. With the exception of a few decorative pillows
askew and a magazine opened on the coffee table, the sitting room was
Instinctively, Yi picked up the corkscrew from the silver platter on
the wet bar and positioned the spiraled point between his second and
third fingers. Moving toward the bedroom, he paused to open the door
to the coat closet. Empty. He then checked the bathroom, bedroom
closets, and balcony. No one. And no sign of forced entry.
His belongings from his suitcase, the dresser, and the closets were
strewn onto the floor. The king-size bed sheets and comforter were
partially pulled from the mattress. The nightstand drawers, although
empty, had been removed. A chair was overturned.
Well, happy birthday.
As Yi surveyed the disarrayed room, anger began to replace the adrenaline
pumping through his veins. He flung the corkscrew onto the now-empty
So much for five-star security! It was clear that whoever had done it
had had a key.
Suddenly Yi’s breath caught in his throat. He quickly grabbed the
open suitcase off the floor and tossed it onto the bed. He felt for the
hidden compartment. His heart raced as he pulled back the lining.
The contents had not been disturbed. His American passport and US
dollars were still there.
He closed his eyes. Inhale. Exhale. Years of martial arts training took
over as he began to slow his heart rate through controlled breathing.
Its calming effects helped him focus his concentration. He needed to
assess what had happened.
The pounding in his chest subsided. He opened his eyes and began
to analyze the room.
The money he had left on the table was still there. So was his airline ticket.
If not money, then what?
Taking a mental inventory, Yi realized what was missing.
The camera equipment.
His thoughts immediately went to the photographs he probably shouldn’t
Had officials been monitoring already?
He had checked the hotel suite for surveillance devices when he
arrived but hadn’t found any. And he had registered under a Chinese
passport. The local government wouldn’t have suspected him as a foreigner
unless . . . unless, somehow, he had jeopardized his cover. A queasy feeling
crept into his stomach. He sat down on the edge of the bed.
Could he have given himself away before his assignment even started?
The nausea started to spread.
His mind raced to pinpoint when and how he might have made a
mistake. He’d arrived in Guangzhou two weeks earlier. As planned, he
immediately started immersing himself in the daily routines of life on the
mainland. He watched the people, especially urban men in their thirties.
He listened to expressions and nuances in their language. Word choices
and tonal qualities identified a person’s level of education and, often
times, their hometown. He was fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, but without the local mannerisms and up-to-date expressions, he would be
pegged an “ABC”—American-born Chinese—which was the last thing
He then thought about why he came to Hainan Island.
Should’ve stayed in Guangzhou.
No matter how hard he had tried to stay focused on familiarizing
himself with Guangzhou customs, he couldn’t let go of the fact that the
Super Bowl was playing—on his thirtieth birthday—and his favorite
team, the Baltimore Ravens, was in it. But Guangzhou television wasn’t
going to air the game.
The closest place to Guangzhou where the game was being televised
was Hong Kong. Yi couldn’t leave the mainland on his People’s Republic
of China passport unless he had a visa, which he didn’t. Getting one
would take too long, if he could get one at all. And using his American
passport was definitely out of the question. Woodbury had made it
very clear it was for emergency evacuation purposes only.
Simply put, Yi had wanted a diversion—something to take his
mind off football.
Okay, more than football, he acknowledged.
As much as he hated to admit it, his assignment worried him. This
wasn’t his line of work. Not even close. But when Woodbury asked him,
he felt a duty to help the countries of his birth and his heritage. It was
the honorable thing to do.
Now he wasn’t so sure.
As he picked up his belongings and put the bedroom back in order,
Yi thought about the possibility of failing. He knew there were other
young Chinese-American agents sent to China, like himself, to pose
as judges in order to ferret out corrupt officials. Were they having as
difficult a time getting started as Yi? He would probably never know.
None of them knew who the others were or where they were located.
All he knew was that he had to report to the Guangzhou Administrative
Court one week from Monday.
Yi picked up the airplane ticket and read the itinerary: South China
Airlines flight CS1322 to Guangzhou, February 1, 9:30 pm.
Maybe it should say “back to the US.”
He dropped the ticket onto the table. Just because his ancestors
were from the mainland and he had studied Chinese history and law in college didn’t mean he could pull off undercover work. This was
his first time to mainland China for goodness’ sake! And, in the two
weeks since he had arrived, he obviously hadn’t fooled anyone. The
beggars and street peddlers marked him as a foreigner his first day in
Guangzhou, surrounding him and pulling on his clothes, insisting he
buy their wares.
Now, having his camera equipment . . . what, stolen? confiscated? . . .
could he be convincing enough to succeed in the assignment? He was an
attorney after all, not an actor or a spy.
He walked to the balcony doors and stared out at the horizon,
above the rhythmic waves breaking along the pristine beach. Was it the
pictures he had taken? Or did someone know the real reason why he
was in China? He shuddered at the thought.
Help me, Father. He offered a silent prayer then waited for any inspired
The military camp.
Yi glanced to the left at the group of tents in the distance. The
soldiers in green fatigues were scurrying about as they had been when Yi
had first seen them. He hadn’t expected a military installation so close
to a luxury beach resort. When he had arrived at the hotel and noticed
the encampment, his curiosity had been piqued. What branch of China’s
military would conduct training at such an unusual location? As an
expert on Chinese policy, Yi would be able to tell from their uniforms.
Yet as he zoomed in with his camera, two surprising facts became clear:
one, the uniform insignias were not any of those used by the People’s
Republic of China; and, two, there were non-Chinese soldiers among
them. That’s unheard of, he had thought. Then, without thinking, he had
snapped some pictures to research when he returned to Guangzhou.
If the government had confiscated his camera, would they have
trashed the room?
Yi ran his hand through his thick black hair, pushing back several
strands that tended to fall onto his forehead.
Whoever did this wanted their presence known.
And unless they were blind in overlooking the airline ticket and
cash left on the table, they wanted it known they were not there for
Another thought came to him, one he hadn’t anticipated. The Liren
Yi had gone to the tourist area earlier that day.
He grimaced at how cavalier he had been in straying from the designated
walking path. Absorbed in photographing some native children playing
around the grass huts, he had followed them when they ran into the private
area. What Yi had come upon was startling. Inside a makeshift plastic hut,
clearly not part of the ancient village’s planned tour demonstrating the Li
tribe’s simple life, was a sophisticated computer system—a state-of-the-art
computer complete with high-graphics monitor and a communications
station. The screen displayed a strange, metallic spiderweb-like symbol. He
took several pictures of the whole setup and some close-ups of the logo to
What did they expect? The modern juxtaposed with primitive was
almost comical. Any tourist would see the irony and want pictures.
Except tourists weren’t supposed to be in that area.
It was just so incongruent. Expensive equipment in a place
without protection from the heat, rain, wind, and dirt—all elements
detrimental to electronics. It didn’t make sense. Certainly the village
would keep their computer equipment and business records in a more
stable environment, like a downtown office. The hotel concierge had
said the village was a major tourist business on the island.
So why take the camera? Yi doubted the confiscation was simply the
result of photographing a computer. There had to be more to it.
It was different from the one on the village’s entrance sign. Yi had
hoped to check it out when he returned to Guangzhou.
That’s got to be it. Whoever was linked to the symbol didn’t want
their presence in the village known. Why?
Yi took a deep breath.
Don’t worry about that now. Focus on your mission.
He exhaled. Relief settled over him. Clearly the camera confiscation
was not connected to his undercover assignment. He had simply made a
silly tourist mistake.
Yi felt drained. He reclined on the bed and stretched out his lean,
five-foot-ten-inch frame. The chandelier overhead sparkled in the
That was close, Jason. You’ve got to be more careful!
Despite the camera confiscation and resulting paperwork, Yi spent the
remainder of his vacation enjoying beautiful Yalong Bay. February 1
came all too soon. But a storm was rolling in, and Yi was eager to avoid
it. He quickly loaded his gear and boarded the airport shuttle bus. He
sat in an empty row away from the few other tourists already on board.
“Shame to leave such a paradise,” a stylishly dressed Asian man in
a silk shirt and linen pants commented. He and his female companion
sat in the bus seats across the aisle from Yi. He spoke Cantonese, and
Yi assumed he was from Hong Kong.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Yi answered back.
“So you speak Cantonese? I don’t detect an accent. Where are you from?”
Yi was pleased his upbringing wasn’t obvious. “Guangzhou.”
“Oh, yes. Marvelous city. Excellent business opportunities. Heading
there now, in fact. You a businessman?” the man asked as he reached in
his shirt pocket and handed Yi his card.
“Administrative judge,” Yi replied. He quickly located one of his own
cards and, with both hands, extended it to the man in the customary manner.
“Even better,” the man said with a smile. He pocketed the card without
looking at it. “What flight are you on?”
“Thirteen twenty-two,” Yi replied. Glancing at the man’s card, he
noticed his name was João Araújo. Portuguese? Must be from Macau.
He tucked the card into his notepad.
“Same flight then,” the man continued. “It’s a commuter express.
Last one of the day. I imagine we’ll all be on it.” He looked at his watch.
“Provided the bus leaves soon.”
Yi couldn’t help but notice the man’s unusual wristwatch. The large,
square black face was framed in rose gold, with a gold gear occupying the
lower half and what looked like gold and red slot machine dials at the top.
With the exception of the large numbers at the three and nine positions and
the slender hour and minute hands, Yi wouldn’t have know it was a watch.
“That’s a curious timepiece,” he commented. “I don’t believe I’ve ever
seen one like it.”
“Probably not,” the man said as he held out his arm. “This one is
very rare. A vintage Jackpot Tourbillon.”
“Oh, yes,” the man replied, pulling on the small gold lever next to the watch stem.
Yi watched as the dials spun around. “Are you a gambler?” he asked,
wondering why anyone would have such a watch.
The man laughed. “Let’s just say I’m in the business.”
Yi continued to stare in fascination.
“What’s the purpose of the gear at the bottom?” he asked.
The man pulled his arm back and tapped on the watch’s crystal.
“The tourbillon gear—best in the world for accuracy. Somehow it
prevents gravity on the mechanism.”
“I’m not familiar with them.”
The man nodded. “They are a bit pricey. On average about a hundred
grand in US dollars. This one, substantially more,” he added with pride
in his voice.
Yi felt his jaw drop.
The man laughed. He seemed to enjoy the unsettling effect he was
having on Yi. Of course a lowly Chinese judge would not have knowledge
of such lavish things!
“Tourbillons have been around awhile. Napoleon owned one,” he
continued. He then added, as if an explanation were needed, “One of
the many advantages of my doing business in Guangzhou.” He smiled.
“It was a gift.”
Yi nodded cordially then turned to look out the window as a gust
of strong wind blew through the palm trees. The now-constant rain
was coming in an almost horizontal direction.
Thinking about the man’s exorbitant watch, the gold gear at the six
o’clock position suddenly seemed familiar to Yi.
The logo on the village computer.
There was a definite similarity. What looked like a metallic spiderweb
could easily have been the cogs of an intricate watch gear. Yi thought about
the symbol on the computer screen. There had been characters in the middle,
like writing. They had not been Chinese or any other language Yi could read.
Probably Arabic, Yi thought, given the large population of Muslims on
Hainan. When he arrived, he had been surprised by the strong religious
influence on the local architecture. Gray clay walls with ogee-arched
portals stood as gateways to clusters of shops and residential buildings.
Such plain features were a vivid contrast to the intricately carved and
colorful wooden structures normally seen in Chinese cities.
A noise outside the bus drew Mr. Araújo’s attention away from Yi.
Yi opened his notepad, wrote tourbillon, then briefly sketched as
best he could the spiderweb/watch gear symbol. He would research
the symbol and the military camp’s uniforms when he got back to
“Now, please come, please.” The bus driver’s flustered voice interrupted
Standing outside the bus in the rain, the driver was trying unsuccessfully
to hurry along a group of what appeared to be American tourists struggling
with oversized luggage and designer umbrellas. One teenage boy kept
pestering a girl in line by pulling at her ear.
They’ve obviously been to the culture village,</i. Yi thought with a smile,
remembering the tribe’s customary greeting of rubbing a guest’s earlobe.
He watched the steady stream of colored umbrellas bob toward the
bus from the hotel lobby. Several of them turned inside out from the
Expatriates, Yi thought. They often vacation in China before returning
to the States during the Spring Festival holiday and winter school break.
The bus arrived at the airport on schedule. Had the driver called ahead,
however, he would have learned there was no need to hurry. The flight
was being delayed because of bad weather in Guangzhou. The plane,
due to leave Hainan in little more than an hour, had not left Guangzhou
yet. Given the severe thunderstorm raging there, it was unknown when
the plane might leave.
“South China Airlines flight CS1322 to Guangzhou, scheduled to
depart Hainan Island at 9:30 pm, has now been indefinitely postponed,”
the voice over the airport loudspeaker announced.
“Great,” a tall American man with name-brand sunglasses on his
head and an air of superiority about him complained. “We should have
eaten at the hotel before we left.”
“Let’s find some empty chairs before they’re all gone and wait it out,”
a lanky blonde woman, probably his wife, replied. “It’s not like we have
a choice, dear.”
The hard-molded plastic chairs were small and attached together in
rows positioned close to the ground. Sitting on them for any length of
time would be uncomfortable for the average-sized American.
It could be at least two hours, possibly three, before the flight
departed. With so many people stranded in such a small airport, Yi
could see the impatience mounting in the Americans. And, feeling
restless, he had to stifle his own urge to complain.
“Attention passengers, flight CS1322 to Guangzhou is now boarding,”
came the much-awaited announcement.
The clock on the wall showed 11:48 pm.
“It’ll be at least 1:30 before we’re back in Guangzhou and able to
get these kids into comfortable beds,” one of the exhausted parents
with a child asleep in his arms said with a sigh.
Others slowly gathered their belongings and moved toward the
The pilot slid into the seat of the plane’s cockpit and began the routine
he had learned so well in flight school. His movements felt mechanical
from the many months of training. He marveled at his ability to
navigate the control panels with little or no thought.
For the short flight, there would be two pilots on board. Other
than the requisite communications between airplane and airport tower
and a minimal amount of pleasantries exchanged between them, the
pilots avoided conversation with each other, focusing instead on their
individual responsibilities. The plane took off without incident.
Twenty minutes into the flight, the airplane cleared the Hainan
land mass, traveling over the South China Sea.
“This is your captain speaking,” the pilot said into the microphone,
trying to mask any nervousness in his voice. He ran his index finger
around the inside of his collar. He cleared his throat before going
on. “Welcome aboard South China Airlines flight . . .” He paused to
verify the number. “. . . flight thirteen twenty-two for Guangzhou. We
apologize for the delay.”
His fist tightened as an almost imperceptible tremor crossed his wrist.
“I suggest doing a walk-through of the cabin area,” he said to the
copilot. “You know there are many foreigners on board. With the flight
delayed, I am sure they are annoyed by the inconvenience. A walkthrough
would be a sign of goodwill.”
The copilot nodded and exited the cockpit area. The pilot locked
the door behind him. He then loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top
button of his shirt. Usually wearing fatigues, he wasn’t comfortable in
the pilot’s restrictive uniform.
A few moments later, the flight management systems were switched off,
along with the autopilot, the transponder, and the radio communications
systems. The pilot took over the manual controls of the now-silent airplane.
An electrifying calmness settled over him. For two years he had waited
for this moment. He forced himself to delay a while longer, to savor it,
heightening even more the seductive feeling of power he now held. He
took a deep breath. A half smile formed in the corner of his mouth.
His fingers tightened around the control yoke of the plane as he
forced it forward, plunging the plane down. Yet he was careful to reduce
power. Too much speed would cause structural damage to the plane. He
wanted it to remain intact until the last possible moment before impact.
The smile spread fully across his lips as he heard screams from the
cabin area behind him. Someone pounded frantically on the cockpit
door. But he couldn’t think about that now. He closed his eyes and began
to dream of the paradise awaiting him as flight CS1322 crashed into the
South China Sea.